Initiation takes on so many forms in the world of modern Witchcraft, and it has so very many roles to fill. What form and function it takes depends largely on what you (or your coven/Trad) want, need, or expect from the initiation process.
Initiation as Graduation
It can be a marker of accomplishment in one's studies -- a validation and endorsement by a group. And I don't think that's an invalid thing for a person to want/need. We have ceremonies like that throughout our lives. Just because we don't ALL want it, doesn't make it wrong.
Initiation as a Mystery Tradition
Initiation can also also be an important immersion in a set of group mysteries and symbols that are difficult to transmit in other ways. This was the function of the Mystery Schools of the ancient world, and modern magical orders rely heavily on this system.
Initiation as a Test
It can and often is a series of trials to prove one's readiness to progress to a next level of study/work. In tribal cultures around the world, as well as in "modern" magical communities, initiations can be filled with a series of challenges -- ranging from physical to intellectual to emotional and even beyond -- in order to prove a candidate's worthiness to move into the world of adults or to truly claim the title Witch.
Initiation is ALWAYS a Beginning
Whatever else it may be, though, initiation is a beginning. To initiate a process is to start it, and we are starting a cycle when we enter the circle of initiation. We are starting a process within ourselves that has great weight and meaning. I think each Initiate's experience varies, because their reasons for beginning the next step are so different.Their processes and cycles have been different, but the commonalities along the road are part of what bonds Initiates to each other. "I've been where you are." or "We faced that trial together."
Star & Torch Society -- A Witchcraft Circle of Initiations
I had the idea a few months ago to establish an Initiatory System for solitary Witches who felt the "void" of not being able to experience the Mysteries of initiations at the hands of experienced Priests and Priestesses. There is more to coven work than just claiming initiations, for certain, but hear me out.
The OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis), of which my very witchy wifey and I are members, allows every free man and woman the opportunity to take certain initiations. There are 10 degrees in the OTO, and anyone is welcome to take the first 4. So, okay, ... what if we were to form an Eclectic Initiatory Circle?
Most versions of Craft have 3 degrees.We thought to adapt the same model for this Society:
1* -- Witch and Initiate
2* -- Simple Priest/ess
3* -- HP/S
Furthermore, each of the initiations draws on a cycle of myth, symbol, and traditional initiatory experience.
Initiators are trained to deliver the same initiations to everyone, working from the same ritual script.
This isn't just for the collection of degrees, though I suppose some will use it for that. (Some always do.) I'm really thinking of something in which the Initiations are self-contained experiences -- rich in symbolism and Mystery, lots of meaning to be discerned by the Initiate both during and after. With periods of time in between, for people to continue their studies and grow.
Nothing can replace the initiations at the hands of the Gods, and coven initiations can't force those experiences to happen no matter how much a person has studied. What we want to offer is a Mystery experience of value and deep meaning to the folks who are otherwise unable to study with a group.
This will not be a teaching group. Witches are expected to study on their own, just as Magicians do within the OTO or other similar groups. Get a good basic understanding of the Craft. Pursue the interests that call to you. Do your Will. Prepare yourself for initiation by immersing yourself in your magic. What and how you study between your initiations is entirely up to you. To that end, the initiations are NOT "certificates of completion" of a course of study, the way they can be in some Craft traditions. They would be a system unto themselves, giving Initiates a place of common Gnosis, common Mystai -- and the opportunity to truly experience the revelatory cycle of death and rebirth that is at the heart of all initiatory systems. (It's one thing to know it academically, it's another to have undergone it.)
Let it be clear, as well, that I have no intention of ripping off the OTO. I mention them here because, as a means of initiating people into the Mysteries, and then giving them the freedom to study what most appeals to them, the OTO has a great system. It's very much what I have in mind here, except that we wouldn't be using the symbols and Mysteries of that Order, we'd be using the symbols and Mysteries of Witchcraft.